Two most devastating wars in the history of mankind – World War I and II – happened in the last century. Interestingly, these wars started in Europe which has been leading the beacon of civilisation since the renaissance.
The catastrophe of these two wars has led to the formation of different organisations to bring various nation states together. The failed League of Nations was a pilot scheme which ultimately helped the world leaders to form the United Nations, which has survived this far and today celebrating the 75th year.
On this very day, we feel that there should be reflection on the philosophy and rationale for creating this humongous organisation along with its successes and failures. It is also plausible to think that the UN needs to reform itself to meet the challenges of this century.
It must be noted that such reform may take time and much depends on the global political structure and the willingness of leadership.
As we all know that the Charter for United Nations was signed on 24 June 1945 which became effective from 24 October 1945. The first sentence of the preamble to the charter declared the intent to bring an end to global scale war to avoid human suffering.
The four months between adopting the charter of the United Nations and the coming into being of the UN as the global guardian angel, history witnessed the real catastrophe that humans are capable of – Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Although it has been argued that Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a necessity to stop further atrocity which is a total contradiction of the spirit of the creation of the UN. It seems that military might became determinant of world peace. The veto power of the five permanent members is the biggest indication of its undemocratic structure and functionality.
The structures of the general assembly and the Security Council represent a hierarchy of global order. The voting structure and decision making process require a lot of back channel diplomacy and do not reflect the global public opinion.
Although the charter for the United Nations aims to attain economic freedom and uphold the human rights, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and the Human Rights Council (HRC) are in the back seat of the UN where the Security Council is in driving seat.
Looking back in history the UN has achieved a lot. It has very successfully helped to avoid large scale escalation of conflict to the proportion of world wars, formulated international human rights standards and documents – UDHR, Covenants, CEDAW, CRC, CRPD, CAT and many more.
It has helped to promote globalisation, implemented Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), managed humanitarian crises in different parts of the world and adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The list of failure is also long. Palestine remained to be its permanent failure. Milestone failures include Vietnam War, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq War leading to catastrophe created by ISIS, Syrian war and Rohingya crisis. Despite its best efforts the world is experiencing the largest refugee crisis ever. High carbon emission and climate crisis are also shouldered by the UN.
As a way forward the name United Nations need to be reconsidered. The idea of a nation and nation state is not same. Although it is named as United Nations it only represent the governments not the nations.
For example, the United Kingdom has four nations within its statehood but its membership in the UN only represents its government. This leaves a big hole in the overall idea of the UN being an organisation for all nations.
The UN needs to rethink its overall organisational structure and operational approach. Most of the decision makers and significant percentage of the overall workforce are mostly from global north. Affirmative action is needed to have more diversity in its workforce and decision making.
It is sad to note that no women has been made the Secretary General yet. The organisation itself must do the needful to break the glass ceiling where it is promoting women through its programmatic interventions.
As part of its operational approach decentralisation will be critical. The North-South divide is very clear in terms of decision making and having the presence of key offices of the UN. The key HQs and key offices are mostly in the global north which can be inaccessible for many in the global south.
The policy of decentralization of its offices should be based on – ease of connectivity, accessibility by the most of the world population, liberal travel and visa policy of a country (for example Thailand).
Keeping all the above issues in mind the UN leadership needs to think radically to transform itself in the post Covid-19 world. We suggest the following specific proposals for the future:
- There should be a female Secretary General by rotation.
- Security Council should not have permanent membership and the power of veto should be abolished. All members should have five years tenure and 20 percent of General Assembly members should be in the council.
- Secretariat should be relocated to somewhere people can access more easily. Such relocation should be rotated every 50 years.
- ECOSOC and HRC should have priority in leading the UN and the Security Council be in supporting role. In the new world social justice should be the focus not the military might.
- There should be a judicial process and forum to enforce provisions of UDHR and subsequent covenants and standards.
- All members should fund the UN on the basis of the size of its economy and population.
On this historic day the UN need to re-energise itself for a hunger free world. The future should be aimed at achieving a more equitable world with peace and prosperity.
Dr Motahar Akand is the chair of Right Centre Trust (RCT) and Shahariar Sadat is the programme head of Human Rights and Legal Aid Services at BRAC.